My 2016 Prep

First - A Little Bit About Me & My History

I'm 28 years old and have been a Personal Trainer for just over the last 5 of those. As a teen I was overweight, spotty and generally felt the opposite of attractive! At 17, I'd had enough and discovered the gym. Long story short, I dropped from 100kg (225lbs) to 70kg (155lbs) in just over 3 months by assaulting my college gym everyday. Everyday. Seriously. I set the attendance record each and every month I was a member there.

Of course my workouts at the time were smart...if smart means doing an hour of running and an hour of all of the different weight machines they had each day.

My diet was smart....if smart means subsisting on Weetabix and salad every day and getting visibly aroused by the smell of the off limits bakery.

And by the end of that I sure looked different. Sadly unless my aim had been to look like a muscular broom I was clearly missing something.

And this really is where my journey into fitness began. The search to find what I was missing has taken many years and led down far too many false roads (Poliquin, Chek, Arnie, Paleo, No Carb, High Carb, Virgin Shark Tears). Eventually I stumbled upon an evidence based approach a.k.a the use of the scientific method. And that really did change my life personally and professionally. Suddenly the results came quicker and were, to my initial surprise, easier to achieve. Turns out it wasn't always about blasting more and more out of myself. It was smarter not necessarily harder. 

And after being into this on and off for the best part of 8 years I decided to do a photo shoot. This was a couple of years ago now, adn if you want to read more on that - follow this link. 

Once the photo shoot prep had finished I went through without doubt the darkest period in my life. For nearly a year I struggled with, what turned out to be Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This I will write more about at a later date, I just can't do it justice quickly and this article isn't about that anyway. But it's safe to say it ruined my life and really made me question whether or not I wanted to be here at all. I don't write that to be melodramatic, it's just true. Life felt too hard.

Eventually though, through medication, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and a lot of support and help I managed to overcome these problems and found a way to be happy again. For the record this was far harder than getting shredded, so if anyone is struggling with anything, you have my eternal sympathy and support. I'll always be here to listen. 

Anyway this particular maelstrom of depression and difficulty led me to be in the shape I was in above. Which is something that, for someone who calls himself a fitness professional I'm not particularly happy with.

And after having ticked off the photoshoot aim a couple of years before, my next aim had always been to compete.

And so it was time.

Contest Preparation

I chose to compete with the UK Drug Free Bodybuilding Association in the Men's Bodybuilding division. The decision to compete here and in this category was driven by a couple of things;

  1. I feel I am better suited to the Physique DivisionsI'm tall with smaller bones than most genuine bodybuilders and this means I'm never going to carry the muscle mass the big guys that dominate those categories do. But I didn't want to wear the board shorts that the Physique Guys have to wear in this federation as they cover all of the upper leg up to the knee. Sadly, I have god awful calves. I think there's a chance I have the world's longest achilles tendon so I'm blaming that. As a result my calves are never going to be great, which means that if I cover the top half of my leg up, it's going to look like I don't train legs at all and I am not having that. So this left me with competing in the Bodybuilding class as it meant I could keep my legs out with those fun, fun, tiny posing trunks.
  2. I wanted to compete in a Drug Tested federation. Some of you reading this may be surprised by the ease with which I throw away a comment about steroid use in this sport, while those of you who've been around a while will know a little more and know that this isn't news. For those of you who don't know almost all of the bigger federations that you'll see people competing in have Zero Testing and are swamped with, shall we say...Mexican supplements sold by guys in trench coats and vans. This isn't a knock on anyone who chooses to use, honestly I couldn't care less what you take, so long as you're honest about it. But as someone who has a strong desire to stay natural (there's a chance I may feel differently in my 40's or 50's) there is simply no way to compete with guys who are juicing. The Fitness Models are now the size of the Muscle Models, and the Muscle Models are now the size of Bodybuilders. I think it'll carry on this way for the next 5-10 years and then there'll be a backlash and it'll swing back again to smaller more natural looking physiques again.
    The UKDFBA get you to pee in a cup and can make you take a lie detector at random. One of the guys in my division failed his testing and was disqualified for example. This just doesn't happen in many other federations. Notable exceptions include the BNBF and NPA.

What A Typical Week Looked Like For Me During Prep Training

I trained 5 times per week in the gym, with each session lasting roughly an hour. They took up to an hour and a half as prep progressed because my recovery was getting worse and it took me longer to recover between sets. My weekly split was two lower body sessions, two upper body sessions and one arms and shoulders session. The exact programming changed every 6 weeks but that same weekly structure remained in place. 

One of my Upper Body Sessions

A1. Bench Press - 5 x 4
B1. Flat DB Chest Press - 4 x 10
C1. BB Bent Over Row - 4 x 8
D1. One Arm DB Row - 3 x 10
E1. Standing DB Lat Raise - 3 x 15
E2. Straight Bar Cable Curls - 3 x 12
E3. Flat DB Skullcrushers - 3 x 10

One of my Lower Body sessions

A1. Front Squat - 4 x 8
B1. 45 Degree Leg Press - 4 x 12
C1. High DB Step Ups - 3 x 10 per side
D1. Leg Curls - 3 x 10
E1. Calf Raises - 3 x 15
E2. Cable Rope Crunch - 3 x 15
E3. Banded Palloff Press - 3 x 30s per side

On top of this I hit at least 10,000 steps per day, which I tracked using an Apple Watch. Around 6 weeks from the show we added 20 minutes of uphill walking on a treadmill at the end of each session. The reason for using lots of walking is that lower intensity activities demand less recovery than higher intensity activities. During prep, especially near the back end, recovery is in short supply. So use it wisely. I used no other cardio during this prep. 

Nutrition & Dietary Needs

Thankfully my calories only needed to be lowered once throughout prep as my weight consistently dropped steadily throughout. As you read these numbers some of you may think they are quite high, however try and keep in mind the amount of energy expenditure I maintain per day as a Personal Trainer. If you have an activity tracker take a look at your own steps and then compare that to my 12km per day average. 

Final Calories & Macros

2575 Calories
200g of Protein
298g of Carbohydrate
65g of Fat

Starting Calories & Macros

2832 Calories
188g of Protein
340g of Carbohydrate
80g of Fat

You can see that Calories came down by 10%, Protein increased slightly (there is a tendency to lose more lean body mass as you get leaner and protein can help offset some of that), Carbohydrate and Fat came down to reduce calories without taking either one to a stupidly low level. 

Yes that is as low as I had to go to get stage lean but believe me it sucked the big one even going that low. Again try and remember that it doesn't really matter what the exact numbers are, the point is that if you're in a caloric deficit for a really prolonged period of time, you will feel a bit like garbage however you structure things.

I maintained a linear diet throughout this prep; meaning I didn't cycle carbs or calories. This was the first time I'd done that throughout a dieting phase. And the success of it really helped reinforce the importance of the fundamentals. Nothing matters even remotely as much as a consistent caloric deficit. Whether it's linear or not doesn't make a huge difference unless you happen to really prefer one over the other.  

What I Thought Went Well

I was pleased with the general structure of my nutrition and training. My gym sessions and diet were well laid out and clear. This made sure I knew exactly what I was doing each and every day. I knew everything from the rate of loss we were looking at to the best way of controlling my hunger sensibly. This allowed me to focus my energy on the process day in and day out. 

I enjoyed a reasonable amount of flexibility in the early few months of prep but quickly learned that controlling my environment and limiting exposure to unnecessary temptation was increasingly critical to my ability to stick to the plan. In other words, I learnt not to rely on willpower, as that bad boy will fail you. Make it as easy as it can possibly be, it simply doesn't need to be any harder than it inevitably will be. 

I was pretty pleased with my Glute, Abs, Chest and Back condition. Of which Glutes and Back are my strongest visual areas.

What I Will Look To Improve Next Time Out

There are plenty of things I will look to do a little differently next time. The first of which was touched on a moment ago; engineering my environment. With hindsight I could have done this a little better. I had quite a few occasions during prep that were important that I went to; stag do's and weddings come to mind. I actually dealt with these well as I knew they were coming and had strategies in place to handle them. The bigger issue was with trying to be a little too social as prep went on - this led to a couple of binges which could have been avoided and may well have stopped me coming in a little leaner (I feel I had another kg I could have lost).

If you don't believe me when I say binge, try this on for size:

  • Double Duck Fat Fried Chips with Truffle Mayo
  • Duck Burger, Duck Confit, Brioche Bun
  • Large Snog Salted Caramel Frozen Yoghurt with Berries
  • Big Bag of Pic'N'Mix
  • Bag of Skittles
  • 2 White Chocolate Reece's Peanut Butter Cups
  • Large KFC 3 Piece Meal
  • Entire Malteser Easter Egg Plus 2 Chocolate Bars
  • Entire Tub of Ben & Jerry's Cookie Dough Ice Cream
  • 100g Bag of Popcorn

That my friends, is a binge...

The other things I would do a little differently would be to attempt to put a diet break for two weeks into the 6 months of prep. Honestly this is as much about mentally taking a small break from the constancy of the dieted feeling (akin to fading away both physically and mentally) as it is about replenishing things like muscle glycogen. 

I would do a different posing routine and work on contracting my leg muscles harder during the presentation of my physique. This was particularly true for my Quads. Again, I think being another kilo lighter would also have helped but a large part of this was simply not being as aware of contracting my Quads hard on stage. 

All in all, a challenging and rewarding experience. I'm convinced these days that I only really grow as a person through genuine challenge and hardship. Something that forces me to doubt myself, suffer, cry a bit, get angry a bit and then find a way to overcome the obstacle in the way. That, I think, is one of the great lessons from doing something intentionally hard and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

As a note I came 3rd in my show. Though honestly, I couldn't care less about that part.